Yeah, I know. A title. What can I say. I'm not quite awake yet.
We've all seen the ads: Come to New Orleans! Great culture! Food, music, art, parades. A great time to be had by all.
Here in New Orleans, however, it would seem that some folks really want all that to stop. First there was a move to stop street musicians. The ordinance allowed for powertools to rev up early and stay late, but not a brass band on a corner. Yeah, you know, the ones in the ads by the Tourism Bureau.
Last week a Costume Market on Frenchmen Street, which had been around for 20 years, was shut down. No permits. For information on that, please see Lord David's piece here.
Last night the rebellious Krewe of Eris rolled through the Bywater, Marigny and French Quarter ending in injuries, arrests, tazing and mace. No permit. I wasn't in the parade, but I saw it and saw the melee in the end. Jules Bentley interviewed one of Eris' organizers a few days ago. Excerpts here.
I've watched Eris for years. Usually wildly imaginative costumes, lots of whooping, a band, some crazy bicycle floats, seemingly tons of feathers, are to be seen and the number of folks at the beginning of the parade's roll swell as onlookers join in along the route. Last night we heard them coming and ran out the door up to Mimi's on Franklin and Royal. Giant bugs rolled by, followed by an imaginative three headed dragon seemingly made of dryer duct tubing, and a really cool bead catapult. Everyone was having a wonderful time, dancing, singing, celebrating. We saw absolutely no aggression, no shoving, no pushing, no fighting, no cops.
We stayed at Mimi's maybe 40 minutes and had a couple beers then headed home. I had just walked in my door, didn't even have it closed yet, when I heard loud chanting coming from Port and Chartres. "Let them go. Let them go. Let them go." I ran back out the door and ran into a man who had been with Eris who told me that the cops had tried to blockade them at Esplanade, then Franklin, now here at Port. When I walked the half block to the intersection I saw cop cars everywhere, cops with a kid face down on the ground and all had their batons out and their attitudes in evidence. The police were very clearly spoiling for a fight.
Again, I wasn't in the parade. I can only tell you what I saw and experienced in my little corner of the Marigny.
A few of the Eris folks decided to run the barricade. I heard a voice say, RUN, and they did. Police were knocking over trash cans to slow them down, and some of the Eris folks (I heard this didn't see it) knocked trash cans over to slow the cops down. I saw a cop shove a very small young man with his baton. The kid fled between two cars and the cop followed body blocking him to the ground. It took four of us to pick this kid up off the sidewalk he was so shaken. The way he was crumpled we thought he'd broken some bones but we had to move him in case there was another stampede. I saw repeated incidents of police threatening and hitting people with their batons. In the end I helped pick four people up off the pavement. Two in the street, one on each sidewalk. As I was helping neighbors pick up trash cans and people, my husband was down the block. More on that in a second.
There were lots of folks with cameras, video and still cameras. One of the cops was concerned about that. Another, who seemed to be in charge, told him "Don't worry about the damn cameras." I heard later that some people with cameras were arrested more than a half an hour after the last and worst of the melee had ended. (I asked several of the photogs to send me links to their pics. I will post them when I get them.)
One young man in angel wings and a long white tunic was put on the ground, handcuffed and put in the back of a squad car. I saw it and hadn't seen or heard him do anything to warrant that. Maybe he had a smart mouth. I don't know but he certainly wasn't fighting the cops when I saw them grab him. It seemed random.
By this time the forward contingent of Eris was headed toward St. Ferdinand and then to Press. The cops took Angel Wings out of the car he was in and walked him back to the cars nearer to Franklin, then that car continued behind the others headed toward Press.
My husband was in that group. He was not parading with them, just got swept along. He saw one cop baiting one kid, trying very hard it seemed to get the kid to swing at him, when the kid did nothing, the cop grabbed him and took him anyway then hit him with his baton. He saw cops tazing people left and right, he heard that it had started back at Franklin, but by the time they got to St. Ferdinand it was in full swing. The police were also using mace by this time. One guy, carrying a guitar case turned to the cops as if asking why they were doing this. He was wearing glasses. The cop grabbed him with one hand and maced him right in the face behind his glasses with the other. My husband said he could see it foaming behind his glasses. His friends tried to help him when he went down, trying to rinse his eyes out with water. They all got tazed. Tazers and mace were used liberally. My husband saw clouds of mace and was caught in it. At Press Street a cop told my husband not to turn around, saying, "Anyone who turns around gets arrested. I don't want to see faces, I want to see backs."
One drummer in the band was told by a cop holding a baton over his head that if he hit that drum again, his head would get hit by the baton. I talked with a friend who was in the parade. He said that yes, some people were dancing on cars and shouldn't have been. He absolutely refutes the report that anyone threw a brick at a cop or anyone else. He said that if the police had seen one of the paraders doing something, they could have come in and gotten that ONE person out, instead, according to him, they came on with total aggression, breaking heads and instruments, and escalating the problem. As the cops became more aggressive, the people in the parade began to defend themselves, not by throwing anything but by trying to run, or put their hands over their heads to protect their skulls. This caused the tazing and macing to begin, which of course, threw more fear into the mix which caused stampeding and a lot of people being knocked down. If there were cars scratched in the Marigny, from what I saw last night, it was most likely caused by people trying to get up on the sidewalk away from the flailing batons.
I'm certainly not going to try to say that no one in the parade might have caused a problem. People join in along the way. There is no set membership with wristbands, there is no parade security. Nevertheless, I've seen this parade many times before and it's pure joy and whimsy. These are delivery people and artists and musicians and young families. (I am hoping that none of the kids I saw in wagons, strollers and on parents' hips were hurt in all this.)
NOPD's behavior was absolutely contrary to trying to maintain peace. It appeared that they were spoiling for a fight. It's what I saw. It's all in the attitude.
I know there will be a ton of comments regarding why don't they just get the permit. Please spare me that argument. What I'm seeing is street musicians, artists and now a small group of Mardi Gras paraders being ticketed, shut down, beat down, tazed and maced because they didn't render unto Caesar to get their golden ticket giving them permission. This grates me.
I can pretty much guarantee that there isn't a gun in the pocket of that brass band musician or that costume maker on Frenchmen or that artist selling sketches on a blanket or in the stroller of the 2 year old dressed like a bunny or in the head of the dryer duct dragon. These are not the criminals, NOPD. I really wish you'd go out and get some of them instead of spending your time shutting down people who choose to create rather than destroy. Seems your priorities are a bit skewed.
But that's just me.
As Lord David puts it: ART IS NOT A CRIME.
Neither is parading during Mardi Gras.